Caterpillar Inc. Brings Virtual Reality Simulator To IMX

April 17, 2017

By Heather Ervin

Simulator allows users to view a pre-construction towboat from all angles.
(Photo courtesy of Caterpillar Inc.)

Located just outside of Peoria, Ill., is Caterpillar Inc.’s Technical Research Center, home to one of the country’s largest virtual reality simulators known as the C.A.V.E.—an acronym for Cave Automatic Virtual Environment. The C.A.V.E. is an immersive 3D environment used to simulate and test products before they are built or installed for customers.

Caterpillar, which has been using virtual reality technology in machine design for more than 20 years, will bring a traveling version of its simulator to the 2017 Inland Marine Expo (IMX) at America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo., on May 22-24.

According to Jerry West, marketing-distributor support specialist for EMD Power Products, a division of Progress Rail, which is owned by Caterpillar, the simulator was built on a foundation of computer graphics and virtual reality technology. The C.A.V.E. enables the company to evaluate the visibility, serviceability and manufacturability of its products.

“By donning a special pair of 3D glasses, a user of the technology can naturally interact with a virtual world,” said West. “Imagine standing on the bridge of a vessel several years before it is constructed.”

West said a customer can verify that the sight lines are appropriate, the controls are comfortable and that the serviceable parts are accessible. “By conducting such evaluations early in the process, the feedback can be more easily incorporated into the final design, resulting in a product that better meets the customers’ needs,” he added.

By using the immersive visualization technology, a customer can assess human-product interaction early in the development process to reduce costs and time to market. For example, customer access to serviceable engine components can be virtually selected in the simulator so the design can be fixed before the vessel is built or the engine is added in a virtual world.

Additionally, operator visibility is among the primary applications for the simulator. Whether it’s the controls in the pilothouse or placement of the engine components, what a user sees is what they would get in real life. Parts that should be movable can be manipulated as they would be in a non-virtual environment to assess the serviceability, assembly and ergonomics of an engine part.

At IMX, attendees will be able to tour a virtual CT Marine-designed 6,000 hp. towboat that includes two 12-cylinder U.S. EPA Tier 4 Final EMD engines which utilize an SCR aftertreatment system. EMD has designed this system to fit in the same footprint as the U.S. EPA Tier 3 engine and accessories. This simplifies engine and SCR placement for architects and shipyards. Users can board the vessel, look overboard, walk on the bridge and explore the engineroom. Everything is to scale and as it would appear in a real-world environment. Users can even look underneath the engine, check out items in the engineroom or exit the vessel and go underwater to see the propellers.

The C.A.V.E. simulator stationed at Caterpillar is composed of three walls, four screens and 12 high-definition 3D projectors to create the immersive 20-foot-wide and 10-foot-high—and deep—experience. IMX attendees will experience a similar environment on one panel on the showroom floor.

In addition to the special glasses and a hand wand used to manipulate certain parts of the vessel, such as opening doors or moving controls, users will be able to “slice” various components, including the EMD engine, to get an inside look. The exhibit will be beneficial to those in the market for vessel parts, such as engines or propellers, or those who are curious how the technology could help them with future vessel design and layout.

“Imagine walking through a towboat that hasn’t been built yet and seeing exactly how it will look once it’s completed,” said West. “If changes are needed, you can spot them before they’ll cost money to fix in a real-world building environment. Using virtual reality technology in design not only saves money, but time and headaches down the road.”